(IF YOU HAVE TO ASK … The fragrance chamber at the Tom Ford flagship is housed in an octagonal room. The store has designs on outfitting the modern dandy from his top-hatted head to his well-heeled foot.)
THE butler did it. Or — wait — maybe it was the maid. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the scowling doormen who looked me up and down disapprovingly and made me feel like Oprah trying to shop at Hermès.
Either way, my first visit to the new Tom Ford flagship last week — I had attended a party there a few days earlier — was a confounding affair.
In the 1990s, Mr. Ford’s brand of martini-drenched, pheromone-charged glamour resuscitated the once clinically dead house of Gucci. He left in 2004, after a well-documented rupture with the conglomerate that owns Gucci, and has curiously chosen to re-enter the fashion arena with an upscale men’s wear collection. Mr. Ford has spoken at length about wanting to redefine luxury, from suits to nuts, for today’s peacocks who want a more sumptuous environment than that offered by the old school tailors on Savile Row. If my walk-in is any indication, Mr. Ford has confused exclusionary with exclusive.
Once I had cleared passport control, the experience was no less forbidding. The off-the-rack suits (starting around $3,000), Shogun-looking dressing gowns ($3,900) and formal attire (from $3,200) in the loungelike room to the left were enclosed in museumworthy glass cabinets that screamed, “Don’t touch!” Not a problem when it came to a beaver top hat (price on request) that would make any man look like a Central Park coachman, but if I am going to pay $5,690 for a dinner jacket, I want to try it on and have someone fawn over me while I do so.
The warren of rooms to the right was similarly unwelcoming, including a wood-paneled area devoted to shirts that bordered on claustrophobic. The day shirts alone (from $350 to $795) are available in two body shapes, 10 collars, two cuffs (barrel or French), 350 colors and 35 different fabrics. That’s more than 400,000 possibilities before you even consider monogramming. Service, the importance of which Mr. Ford has stressed in recent interviews — he apparently melted at the sight of his butler using a Bunsen burner to warm shoeshine wax — is therefore crucial to the success of the store.
Odd, then, that I was offered no assistance. Left to my own devices, I wandered in and quickly out of the octagonal perfume chamber devoted to scents like Velvet Gardenia and Noir de Noir ($165 to $450), which smell surprisingly more masculine than they sound.
Unimpressed by the selection of mostly cashmere-silk-blend sweaters and overpriced shoes ($1,390 for a pair of Chelsea boots; add another zero for crocodile), I decided to venture upstairs, where a lot of the most interesting accessories — limited-edition sunglasses and slick tie bars — had been on display at the party.
“Sir, this area is for appointments only,” said the security guard at the base of the stairs. I told him that I wanted to arrange a time for a fitting; he told me he did not know to whom to direct me. When I suggested he try the store manager, he replied, “Let me see if he has the time for you.”
You have to laugh. An unintentionally hilarious parody of a pretentious Madison Avenue boutique, the store reeks of arriviste Anglophilic posturing dressed up as aristocratic gentlemanly refinement. For all the preopening ballyhoo about the it’s-all-about-you customization and details like buttons on trouser cuffs so that your butler can brush away the remains of the day — at last! — the reality is more akin to a luxury store in a second-tier market during the mid-’90s.
When I heard that Mr. Ford had appointed an in-store maid, I assumed that it was a marketing ploy and that a modelesque stunner would walk around in high heels and a feather duster, playfully spanking the hedge-fund guys who were prepared to drop a pretty penny on, say, silk pajamas ($1,900, monogram not included). Not to my taste, by any means, but it would have been a cheeky gesture in keeping with the winking sexual provocation for which he was known at Gucci.
The last thing I expected was a display of help-as-spectacle that reminded me of the Brazilian haute department store Daslu, which employs hundreds of maids for the benefit of traveling robber-baron princesses. The security guards and curtained windows brought to mind the closed-door policy of Bijan in the ’80s, a shop that is now confined to the annals of retail history.
It’s early days, but it’s a fate that may well befall Mr. Ford unless he cleans up his act soon. In fact, like a de Chirico painting, impending doom hangs heavy in the air, from the mounted lacquered urns to the fireplaces that resemble chic between-the-wars crematoriums as imagined by Jean-Michel Frank.
My visit the following day was markedly different. The service offered me, especially by the store manager, Edward Carbonell, who possesses a charming bedside manner and the best skin in high-end men’s retail, was exemplary. It was Champagne and smiles all around, but then the entire staff appeared to know I was a Times reporter since I had made the appointment in my name. The security guards were noticeably more low-key — Mr. Carbonell informed me that he had told them to back off as I was apparently not the only one who had been rubbed the wrong way — and the whole tenor of the place was friendlier, more inviting.
I was even allowed to go upstairs to one of the three private salons, though I made it clear that I had no intention of buying a suit. I went through the motions of being fitted for a made-to-measure three-piece single-breasted style, a not unpleasant process that was performed by Mr. Carbonell himself. (The store’s tailors work behind a glass-walled viewing area, but unlike an open kitchen in an upscale restaurant, the wall is covered by a chocolate velvet curtain.) I chose a lightweight, classic Prince of Wales check fabric and went for the more expensive “handmade” option — “sartorial quality,” I was told, is the store’s code for “mostly machine-made.”
For what it’s worth, the suit came in at just under $8,000. It’s a big chunk of change that rivals and in some cases exceeds the price of a bespoke suit on Savile Row, where the focus is on the art of tailoring and not on the art of branding.
I don’t know Mr. Ford, but if he really is the latter-day incarnation of Beau Brummel, as his press would have us believe, he not only subscribes to the theory that divinity is in the details, he would also be the first to point out that the hallmark of a gentleman is that he treats everyone with courtesy.
Source: Nytimes.com, BY HORACIO SILVA
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